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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What are Life Hacks?

Improving productivity is easier than ever.

"Life hacks" or "lifehack" are terms that you'll be hearing a lot next year.  And they are not a bad thing.  In fact, they're the NEXT BIG THING  from internet start-ups in improving productivity.

So we thought we'd give you a head's up.

What's a Hack?

You hear people say things like, "I've been hacked."  Usually they mean that a bad guy somehow got their personal information from their computer or smart phone.  That certainly is not good, but a few decades ago, the term, "hack," was meant as a compliment to a computer programer who figured out a way to do something new.  So, for example, the programmer who figured out how to make the text in your emails get wider or narrower depending on how you sized your screen, well, he probably got some great compliments from his fellow programmers.  They probably said, "That's a nice hack."  That's the ultimate programmer compliment. (But getting paid millions for the hack still beats a compliment any day.) 

What are Life Hacks?

Life hacks are something that make your life more efficient.  They're not necessarily computer-related.  It could be something as simple as putting rock-solid ice cream in the microwave for a few seconds so you can scoop it, or pre-printing labels for packages you send to your kids at college.  There's even a site, lifehacker.com that blogs about all sorts of life hacks. Here is another very interesting site with quite a few original ideas for life hacks.

Some time next year you'll hear quite a bit about new "Life Hacking" companies with new products, or apps, usually for smart phones, tablets or laptops, that try to make your life easier.  There are some already out there.  One that I've used for years, Yelp, helps me and millions of others find restaurants, gas stations and drug stores while we're traveling.  It wasn't originally called a "Life Hacking" app, but it is.

A Life Hack for Important Stuff

If you find yourself spending too much time trying to find important information and papers, then you might just be a candidate for improving productivity with a life hack app.
  • Can't find your car title?  There's a life hack app for that.
  • Need to keep track of your meds?  There's a life hack app for that.
  • Want the kids to be able to find your life insurance policies and will?  There's a life hack app for that. 
  • Want to be able to share 40 minutes of old birthday party video to torture your kids?  There's a life hack app for that too.
But if you have an individual app for each of those functions, you'll need a life hack app to keep track of all of your life hacks apps.  So, what do you do?

A number of companies, SafelyFiled included, offer a way to organize, store and share important documents, photos, videos and audio files.  Most of them offer security and a way to search for the stuff you've saved, even if you didn't do a good job of organizing it.  Take a look at as many as you can and figure out what's right for you.  We've already done a blog comparing SafelyFiled to Dropbox and we'll be releasing some other comparisons soon.  I personally prefer SafelyFiled.  (What did you expect?)  No learning curve to figure out how to use it.

Why Should You Be Interested?

We seem to be busier now than we ever were.  The demands on our time don't seem to be decreasing.  So, any life hacks that really work are worth a look.  If you are an employer, a good hack can improve labor productivity.  On the personal side, a good life hack can help anybody improve productivity.  And one that helps not only you, but your entire family, is certainly one to consider.

And now you have a new term to sprinkle into your conversations, too.

If you want to know more, here's a list of interesting sites to explore.  They represent various and conflicting views of lifehacks.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Business Records in the Cloud

Do You Hide Your Money In The Furnace?

My Uncle Ed was born in 1919.  He had 4 uncles, all born in the 1890’s.  His Uncle Frank is the one I remember best.  He lived through World War I and the Great Depression.

During the Great Depression, many banks failed and because there was no FDIC, depositors lost their money.  So many of that era never trusted banks again and literally kept money in a mattress, in the ice box (this was before refrigerators), or anywhere else they thought a thief wouldn’t look.

One October day, many years ago, Uncle Frank asked my Uncle Ed to help him get the furnace started.  (As their only living relative, Uncle Ed watched over his elderly uncles.)  It was a very old coal furnace and so Uncle Ed checked the firebox and saw a paper bag inside.  He took the bag out, opened it and saw thousands of dollars in cash.  He questioned Uncle Frank who said that that was where he hid his money.  Uncle Ed could only wonder how many tens of thousands of dollars literally went up in smoke over the years.

Uncle Frank explained that he had lost money when his bank went out of business in the 1930’s and he learned his lesson, “Never trust a bank again.”

Learning a lesson too well

Unfortunately he learned it too well.  He never took into account that things change - the FDIC, the reporting requirements and the powers of the Fed made his suspicion of banks obsolete.   But, he just couldn’t unlearn his lesson and as a result it probably cost him tens of thousands of dollars.

As a business owner, you’ve run up against similar attitudes.  There are customers who refuse to give you their email addresses, fearing that you’ll somehow pave the way for a hacker to get into their computer.   But what about you?  Have you learned any lessons too well?  Does that put your business at risk?

Where do you keep your important business documents, like business licenses, corporate minutes, inventory records and tax returns?  Your accounting system may offer off-site or cloud back up, but do you take advantage of it?  What about your prospect list and other data about your customers?  If something happened to your office, could you duplicate those records?

Most business owners know about identity theft and mistakes that some large companies make by failing to secure data.  Your email may have been spoofed, and you may have accidentally put an attachment on the wrong email.  Maybe you were a victim of cyber fraud or your computer was hacked.  Perhaps you've learned a lesson to never trust anything online again.

Your business’s data is as valuable as cash
But you might be like Uncle Frank, failing to consider improved technologies and procedures.  Theft of your laptop or a fire, flood, hurricane or tornado can destroy all your data just as quickly as a furnace can burn cash.  So, we urge you to closely look into what is commonly referred to as “cloud“ storage.

Cloud storage means you move your data over the internet to a hard drive that is in a location you have no control over.  Risky?  Well, if you use a bank, you let them actually use your money and lend it to businesses and homeowners you don’t know.  You have no control over it.  All you have in return is a promise by a stranger to the bank to repay your money over time.  But you accept that risk because you have confidence in the bank and the controls it has in place to prevent loss.

Data can be safer “in the cloud” than in your office
A well-managed cloud storage company that has procedures in place to protect your data both during transmission and in storage is like a well-run bank.  It has ways to make sure only authorized persons can withdraw your data, like a bank makes sure only authorized persons can take money out of your account.  Encryption during transmission is like having cash move via an armored car, with bonded employees.  Not having encrypted transmission (like just about all email) is like having the bank call a cab company and asking the cabbie to deliver the cash.  Will it get there?  Usually, but I don’t think you should feel comfortable.

What about encryption during storage?  Without it, it’s like the bank not locking its doors at night.  And how about the teller requiring an ID before cashing a check?  Strong passwords and serious rules on dealing with forgotten passwords are the cyber equivalent of the mandatory ID.

So while you may feel you are in control, keeping data on your own hard drive has risks that are actually greater than keeping the data in the cloud.  Even if your computer is not lost, stolen or destroyed, you are vulnerable to malicious programs that can take over your computer, transmit your data to a bad guy, then wipe it out or corrupt it.  Even more likely, your hard drive can crash and your data can be wiped out.  Just like keeping your cash in the furnace.

Let the experts protect your data
There are some online storage and organizational companies that have all the necessary procedures, rules and protections in place to protect your data.  Not all do, so you need to do a bit of research.  We encourage you to look around.  We think you'll find that SafelyFiled is superior in many ways, including the level of security, organization, ease of use and price.

Most websites provide an explanation of the protections they have in place.  Read the security page.  If something important like data encryption during storage is not on the list, email or call and ask why.  If it’s not part of the security, look at other companies.

But once you find a good storage company, consider the benefits of having your data protected by experts.  It’s a great way to protect your company’s important information and sleep better at night.

Don’t be like Uncle Frank.  Keep you data out of the furnace.